Niagara Gazette — It has already been the most challenging early-season schedule the Niagara Purple Eagles have faced in 15 years, and the biggest challenge is still on the horizon.
Niagara (5-6) travels to play No. 22 Notre Dame (11-1) tonight on national television (7 p.m., ESPNU, WECK 1230).
The Irish have won nine games in a row since losing a neutral-site game to St. Joe’s on Nov. 16, with one of those wins over defending national-champion Kentucky. They rank as one of the top 10 offensive teams in the country, according to kenpom.com.
“Sometimes, when you watch a lot of tape, even with a good team, you see things that are vulnerable,” coach Joe Mihalich said. “The more you watch this team, the more you realize how good they are. They don’t foul, they control the pace of the game, they only play seven guys but everybody is good.”
A busload of fans will accompany the Purple Eagles on their second trip to South Bend, Ind. under Mihalich. Back in 2005, Niagara lost 80-59 in front of 8,053 fans at Joyce Center. The Purple Eagles finished 11-18 that year while the Irish wound up 16-14.
Niagara has played four ranked teams since 2004, most recently last year at Missouri. In past seasons, however, a game like this was the exception on Niagara’s non-conference schedule, accompanied by a dozen games against teams from smaller conferences.
Twelve games into this season, Niagara will have played six teams that qualified for last year’s NCAA tournament — Notre Dame, New Mexico State, St. Bonaventure, Vermont and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference foes Loyola and Iona. The Purple Eagles have also played Oregon State, a Pac 12 team that is off to an 8-2 start, and a Bucknell team that is favored to win the Patriot League and received a single top 25 vote this week from John Feinstein.